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What Happened After Yuri Gagarin Went Into Space 55 Years Ago?

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Yuri Gagarin lifted off into space on April 12, 1961, becoming the first human ever to leave the relative safety of the Earth. Since that time, several stories have been told about the first person in space.

The Soviet cosmonaut is honored by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly which declared April 12 as the International Day of Human Space Flight in honor of the day Gagarin opened up space for future space travelers.

"[The day was marked] to celebrate each year at the international level the beginning of the space era for mankind, reaffirming the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples, as well as ensuring the realization of their aspiration to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes," the United Nations stated on their website.

In the 55 years since Gagarin took his historic flight, several misconceptions about the mission have been popularized among amateur space enthusiasts.

After his flight, Gagarin spent much of his time traveling from one place to another, recalling his time as the first human to escape the bounds of Earth's atmosphere. For five years following his historic mission, Yuri (as he is popularly known) was brought around the world, meeting world leaders as well as ordinary people. The cosmonaut was only a social drinker, but his schedule frequently required him to lead toasts, a task which started to wear on the world's first space traveler.

Even the death of Gagarin is still shrouded in a degree of mystery, decades after his demise. On March 27, 1968, Yuri is said to have died in an ordinary plane crash. However, Soviet officials kept silent about the loss for two days, a delay which resulted in numerous conspiracy stories. Tales of the cause of the crash ranged from the actions of aliens who had been watching him for seven years to stories of a drunken Yuri shooting at a deer from the cockpit of his aircraft.

The most popular story of his death was that a Su-15, flying just 65 feet from Yuri's aircraft, broke the sound barrier, and the sonic boom sent the space pioneer into a tailspin from which he was unable to recover.

Gagarin did not have much to do during his flight, as nearly everything was automated. But, Yuri had the personality and demeanor to handle the public scrutiny which came with the flight. That quality, above all else, may have been the best reason for the Soviet space program to have chosen him for the flight.

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